For Vira and Anastasiia Derun, sisters from Ukraine, opening the D Light Cafe & Bakery last fall in the heart of Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood was a dream come true. The menu is a fusion of American and Ukrainian – avocado toast meets cottage cheesecakes with forest mushrooms in cream sauce. And the sisters love mingling with their customers, when they’re not busy cooking, serving, and ringing up sales.
Little did they know that their cafe would soon become a symbol of resilience – more than once. In January, a man with reported mental health problems torched the facade, which forced them to close. A GoFundMe campaign quickly raised more than $13,000, and by mid-February they were back in business.
Barely a week later, Russia invaded their homeland, and again, the sisters swung into action. They baked Ukrainian flag cookies – customers lined up down the block to buy them – and hosted trivia and comedy nights to raise funds. A plexiglass box sits on the cafe’s sales counter, stuffed with cash. “Support Ukraine,” says the blue-and-yellow sign, painted bright with sunflowers. “All proceeds go directly to support Ukrainian troops and communities.”
So far, the Derun sisters have raised $16,000 for the war effort. “Our mom and grandma were just here, but have now gone back” to their town south of Kyiv, where their dad had stayed, Anastasiia tells me. Vira says their mom transported 250 pounds of military equipment home with her, including bulletproof vests.
“Our parents sleep in the basement every night,” Vira says. They talk to their daughters in Washington every day.
On Easter Sunday, I had lunch at the cafe, and went back later to take pictures. Sitting at a table out front was a young man wearing a blue-and-yellow T-shirt with Cyrillic letters and an anti-Russia message. Andrey told me he’s an ethnic Russian who had emigrated from Latvia to the United States as a child, and is selling the shirts to raise money for refugees. Another member of Team Ukraine.